Wednesday, November 26, 2008

If you can't say anything nice, part 2

Because I'm a glutton for punishment, I went back to the grocery market yesterday for the last few items on my Thanksgiving recipe list. (Even though everybody knows you don't go anywhere near a grocery market two days before Thanksgiving!) Different market than the one mentioned the other day, and this time I had Sweet Boy with me (he usually keeps me on my toes, which means we move faster through the store, thereby spending less money -- which was not actually the case on this day, but let's move on).

So we're wandering through the produce section in search of decent looking shallots (which I buy, like, twice a year, so it takes me a while to even find them), Sweet Boy driving the car at the front of the cart, which means I'm steering awkwardly though the jam-packed aisles, apologizing left and right as I knock down displays and bang into shins. Along comes this kind-eyed old woman, beaming a smile at my boy. She looks at me and says, "What a lovely child. Good thing you had a boy, though."

At first, I'm thinking, wow, what a nice thing, to remark on my beautiful boy and my good fortune (because as you know, I'm feeling all head-in-the-clouds grateful this week). So I reply: "Yes, I'm very lucky to have a little boy. I really love his energy, don't you?"

She looks at me like I'm speaking Chinese, then says, "No, honey, I mean because he's going to be so tall. You don't want a really tall girl, after all."

Um, what? Again, I'm speechless. Stupefied. Amazed at the lack of tact. With nothing to say, I continue on my way. But she goes on defending her thesis: "I mean, with his height, at least he'll be a star athlete someday. Maybe basketball or baseball..."

I just snap back, "No, actually, he's much more musically inclined." (I readily admitted, did I not, that I never have a witty comeback? I gave it my best effort.)

Keep in mind, this stuff doesn't really hurt my feelings -- I'm damn well used to it after all these years of tallness. What I'm wondering today, though, is do you think she just didn't notice that I'm in fact a tall girl? Perhaps she thought I was standing on a step stool or she was standing in a foot-deep hole. Am I just being sensitive, or did she really imply that it would be a horror to have a tall daughter? And I won't even get started on how vehemently I hate the notion that all we tall people are good for is sports!

I wish I could say these kinds of remarks only occur at grocery markets, because hell, then I'd just stay out of grocery markets. But it's just coincidence that I've had two stupid comments thrown my way in the past week, and that both of them occurred at the grocery. It happens anywhere, anytime, and usually when I least expect it.

Maybe I should change the title of this blog to People Are Stupid, or I could call it Check Your Brain Filter. There certainly would be no paucity of material.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Boy trouble-free (for now)

So many of you responded to my Boy Troubles post last week, I felt I should post an update. Although it's only been a week since my discussion with the preschool director, I have noticed some extremely positive changes in the before- and after-care set-up. When I drop the kiddo off in the morning, there are teachers positioned throughout the gym playing games or putting together puzzles or just generally keeping the kids busy. And I haven't yet seen any little boys in timeout. Then, in the afternoons, the administrator has been in the gym with the kids, which seems to keep the caregivers on their toes. While I realize that these are just the first steps, I'm feeling much better about the situation. And even more important, Sweet Boy seems really happy this week, too. So something's going right over there.

I did learn an important lesson last week, though. It's crucial to speak up every time something bothers me in matters of preschool and childcare. I think so many of us hesitate to bring up our displeasure, thinking that the preschool teachers and directors know more about childcare than we do, or that if we squeak too loudly they'll somehow think less of us or come down harder on our kids. But I realize now it doesn't really matter if the teachers like me or think I'm a pushy mom. What matters is that I open my mouth when things are bothering me. For the sake of my child. I know it sounds like a no-brainer, but we moms (and women, in general) spend a lot of our time trying to make sure people like us -- it's difficult to put that aside, but sometimes necessary.

On a related and much lighter note, I heard Sweet Boy "reading" in the living room while I was cleaning up after dinner. His latest favorite thing is picking up a book -- any book -- and telling me a story as if he's reading to me. Tonight's tale was about a scary, hairy monster walking through a dark, dark forest, and the brave alligators and elephants that stood up to him and told him to stop scaring them and turn on the lights. The storytelling was quite elaborate, with sound effects and different voices for each of the characters. (And you know I eat this stuff up!) When I finally finished the dishes and went in to sit with him on the couch, I cracked up at the book he'd selected for tonight's reading: The Trouble With Boys, by Peg Tyre -- which I borrowed from the library last week and which sort of set off the little preschool maelstrom in my head. Ironic, no?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Time to give thanks

This is my favorite week of the whole year, every year. Since I was a child, I looked forward to Thanksgiving more than any other day. When I was a kid, it was a day that the whole family came together, from far and wide, and gathered at my grandparents' tiny Long Island home. My family would get on the road at 4am so we could be in the kitchen eating Entemann's coffee cake with Grampa while Gramma put the bird in the oven. As we got older (and bigger), we'd all pack around that dining room table, shoulder to shoulder (and sometimes arm over the shoulder of the person next to you -- we're all pretty big folks, uncles and cousins all over 6 feet tall), and laugh and joke and eat. Then we'd all lay around the living room watching football and moaning about our full bellies. These were some of my favorite days, and still top the list of my favorite childhood memories.

Now Thanksgiving is smaller in scope; we've all grown up and grown away from each other. But it's still my favorite day, in a whole new way. I now host the meal at my house, and my immediate family gathers. We all pack into my tiny kitchen, "helping" with the cooking (but mostly tripping on each other), drinking wine and laughing. The menu is always pretty much the same and not terribly exotic, but it's not really the food that makes the day special. It's the time together, the shared memories, the inside jokes that only brothers and sisters understand. It's watching Sweet Boy's eyes pop open when he sees the giant turkey in the middle of the table. It's the smile on my father's face when he sits back and rubs his overstuffed belly. It's the excitement in my husband's voice when he talks about Black Friday shopping with his older sister. It's the buzz in the air about the upcoming Christmas season, planning for our next family get-together. It's the transformation I see in my dad and my husband, from down-to-earth, responsible men into wild-eyed, giddy Santa's helpers. It's the way we all just relax together, if only for an afternoon.

This year I am somewhat overwhelmed with gratitude for my abundant blessings. I sat in church yesterday and teared up more than once as I let it all just soak in. I have a beautiful family and a warm home; we have plenty of food in the pantry; we are healthy. I plan to celebrate those blessings this week, to say thank you out loud and often, because life is so good.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

If you can't say something nice...

OK. I want you to take a minute to describe this scene. Picture this:

I'm in the local grocery market, where weird things always happen. I have a coupon in my pocket for the free turkey I've earned by spending so much friggin' money on groceries. So I'm looking in the freezer case for the largest bird for my buck, so to speak. I'm bent over, no gloves, elbow deep in a freezer, wrestling with these giant frozen turkeys, and an old moustachioed woman with a Russian accent is talking my ear off. She's leaning her tushy on the edge of the freezer waiting for the butcher to cut a fresh turkey in half for her -- which is something I've never even imagined could be done! -- and she's telling me all about why, how, and where she'll be celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday. Because I'm all for a little friendliness between strangers, I listen as I continue to wrangle my turkey from the case.

So, a couple minutes pass, my hands are starting to sting from the cold, but I finally grab my 19-pounder (yeah, dammit, I found the biggest one in there!) and pull it out of the freezer. I drop it into my cart, where it rolls around like a bowling ball (or a giant severed head), and I smile triumphantly at my new Russian friend and wish her a happy holiday. I blow some hot breath into my freezing cold hands, and turn around to walk to the check-out line. And this is when it happens...

"How's the weather up there?"

What? Are you kidding? I stop and stare, dumbfounded, at this average-statured, middle-aged man standing in front of me. He's beaming a big dorky smile, obviously impressed with his wit. I say nothing. I can't even speak. I cock my head to one side and look him in the eye, then I start walking away, pushing my giant turkey in front of me. Maybe he'll just disappear. Yet he says it again as I pass him, as if he thinks I didn't hear him: "How's the weather up there? You're a taaall girl!"

Those of you who know me know that I'm not quick with the comebacks. Ever. And I don't say mean things even when people are offensive. So I ignored him and moved on. He didn't hurt my feelings, of course, and really, that wasn't even an offensive comment. Just stupid.

Why am always amazed at people's need to point out the obvious to me? I've noticed that I'm tall. I have been 6'2" since I was 13 years old, dude. This is not news. Would you walk up to someone who is obese and say "Man, you're fat!" Or, do you approach an elderly woman and holler "Damn, your hair is gray!"

And another thing that I'll throw out there as a public service message: If you're going to comment to a tall girl about her height, try to come up with something a little more clever. Please! At least you might win points for originality, like the short little wrestler dude in college who tried to convince me to go home with him by telling me "You know, we're all the same height laying down." I mean, that was at least different!

We tall girls will only cut you some slack for dumb comments if you are obviously slow or retarded, as was the case with the guy at the 7-11 a couple years ago who threw a couple of Jolly Green Giant and Big Bird remarks my way while I poured my morning coffee.

But really, how's the weather up there? Come on!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Boy troubles

Sweet Boy is in a preschool class this year of 15 kids, 12 of whom are boys. This statement strikes fear in the hearts of most human adults. He's been with most of these kids for two years now, and although he'll tell you all the other 14 children in this class are his best friends, we have always had trouble with hitting. Sweet Boy hits other children, and other children hit him. It's hard for me to know who usually instigates -- I know my son is not a blameless, beatific bearer of beatings -- but I know him well enough to know that he'll play nicely until someone doesn't play nicely with him...and then it's on! Poor D. learned the hard way today when he took a puzzle piece from Sweet Boy and whacked him with it. This left my little guy with a good ding on his forehead, but apparently Sweet Boy has a mean left hook, which left D. with a bloodied nose. (Yeah, you shoulda seen the other guy.)

But I'll back it up a minute. This morning when I got to the gym to drop Sweet Boy off, one of the teachers met me at the door. "We are meeting one-on-one with the parents of the Brat Pack this morning to explain our new, stricter rules in the gym," she said. "They're not allowed to wrestle and carry on any more, and we'll be putting them all in time out when they do." OK. First of all, the Brat Pack? This offends me. I realize you think this is a cute little name for a rambunctious bunch of boys, but no more will you label my son or any other 3-year-old this way. Second of all, this is a new rule? You mean wrestling has been allowed up until now? I don't get it. How can you enforce the "hands to yourself" and "use your words" rules in the classroom when in the before- and after-care it's an every-child-for-himself Wrestlemania? I don't know whether to file this under D for duh, or A for about friggin' time.

So fast forward now back to the end of the day, when I had to sign the incident report in the administrator's office. I was truly shocked and upset to read that my child had not only been clocked in the head by another child, but that Sweetie clobbered the other child hard enough to bloody his nose. So I squatted down in front of Sweet Boy and asked him about it: What happened? How did it make you feel? What would have been a better way to deal with D. than hitting him? etc. Right in the middle of this exchange, just as Sweetie is opening up and telling me his side of the story, the administrator interrupts and says, "Well, you know it's a class full of boys. They're just more physical and express themselves with their hands instead of their words."

And that's about the time I had to use my words. Am I wrong in feeling that the lots-of-boys thing is just a horrible excuse? While I realize that boys are often more physical than girls and I think I'm pretty realistic in my expectations for children's behavior, I do not agree that just shrugging your shoulders and saying, "Well, they're boys..." is acceptable. Anywhere.

This brings to mind a much bigger problem that's been on my mind for months as I've been working on editorial and publicity for a book about teaching literacy specifically to boys. The so-called boy crisis in this country is alarming -- and it's something that all of us moms of little boys need to be aware of. According to Peg Tyre, author and journalist (and recent e-mail buddy of mine):
Boys get expelled from preschool at nearly five times the rate of girls; they get identified as being learning disabled or having behavior issues at four times the rate. They are twice as likely to get held back. They bring home more C's and D's on their report cards and according to the Centers for Disease Control, by the time American boys are sixteen years old, a full 14% have been "diagnosed" with an attention deficit disorder. Currently, there are 2.5 million more female undergraduates then male undergraduates, a gap that is growing by 100,000 every year. [Read more of this article here.]
Why does this happen, you ask? Because even as young as 3 years old, boys learn from the overt and implied signals of their parents, teachers, and caretakers that they are rambunctious brats who need to be put in time out every five minutes...or worse, medicated or excused or expelled. Teachers, who are generally female, don't really understand the how and why of boys' behavior, so they either dismiss the hitting and pushing as typical boy stuff -- or they punish the hell out of kids until they can't stand being at school anymore. And I'll be darned if I'm going to stand by for even one minute of this with my son! Not now, not ever.

I know my son is not blameless. I know he hits, I know he pushes, I know he can fly into a raging 3-year-old temper at the drop of a hat (or puzzle piece, as it were). But, I also know that he loves to run around chasing a soccer ball, he loves to tell wild imaginative stories about spooky spiders, and he loves to sing and dance and act silly. And I guarantee that some of the more frequent instigators among his classmates would respond positively to the same kinds of play. Why not get the before- and after-care faculty involved in more constructive play with these boys? How about organizing some games with them that engage their more physical nature without pitting them against one another or giving them reason to beat on each other?

The administrator assured me that they are having a staff meeting on Thursday to address all this and to discuss the new policies in the gym and playground before and after school. I am right now drafting my letter (complete with references and websites!), because I truly hope that they're not thinking about constantly punishing these kids instead of being more proactive. Because I really don't want to deal with finding a new preschool.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My news boycott

Today's major declaration: No more listening to/watching/reading the news this week. It is depressing and horrible and anxiety inducing, and I am done with it!

After last week's election rush, and the Phillies' World Series rush the week before that, it seems like everything on the local and world news is back to the sky-is-falling focus: giant companies failing, jobless rates rising, more suicide bombings in the Middle East. It's all just sucktastic.

So instead I'll stick to Curious George and the Food Network on TV and crappy pop stations on the radio. Bring on the Beyonce and the mindless call-ins from girls who don't like their Gap store coworkers! As for online, I'll continue to read my favorite blogs, because these are all written by sensible people whom I like, but I'll just skim past any news headlines for a little while, if that's OK with you.

And I just might start sticking my fingers in my ears during any work meeting or conversation in which someone wants to cite some shockingly bad economic news that has no direct bearing on my job or life, like for instance HarperCollins publishers dropping from Q1 profits of $36 million last year to $3 million this year (is this even possible? I'm no math wiz, but isn't this a 90-somthing-percent loss?) or that 6 out of 10 people cannot secure auto loans (I haven't actually verified this tidbit because, well, that would require reading news). Why do folks feel the need to one-up each other on bad news that they hear/see/read? If you report it to people around you, does that make you less likely to fall victim to it? Or is it more the "talk it out" phenomenon, like when you have a nightmare and it always helps you to feel less frightened if you just tell someone about it?

Yeah, nightmare...lately the news makes me want to hide under my bed, which is really no way to live, let alone raise a child. Life in my little nook of the world is OK right now, thank you, and I'd like to just bask in that for a while. So, at least for this week, I choose ignorance. Which is, as we all know, bliss.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mom, the Un-Awesome Playmate

"Play with meeee!"

I, like many mothers of young children, hear this approximately 300 times per day. I try to devote as much time as possible to play on the weekends, but playtime during the week is packed into small chunks here and there -- lunchtime or just before bed, most days -- because, let's face it, weekdays are busy with non-play things.

Sweet Boy plays pretty well on his own now, and really he always has. These days he passes the time with trains or cars or his favorite three stuffed animals, Liony the Lion, Ramma Rhino, and Phil (the elephant we brought home from the Philadelphia Zoo this summer). He spends long stretches of time lining up the cars in neat little rows, then crashing them into one other while yelling "Whoa! Whoa!" and laughing like a comic-book villain. Or he builds elaborate train tracks that don't connect so he can run his trains off the edge of the table and marvel at the noises they make as they plummet to the floor. And he loves to make the animals wrestle. (Are you getting the theme here? All boy, all the time.)

His independent play is good for at least two obvious practical reasons: (1) he's an only child (so far), and (2) I work at home so he has to keep himself entertained for long stretches of time. But I recently realized another plus: It's great that he can be happy playing on his own because I'm not so good at make-believe. In fact, I kinda stink! It is really hard work for me to play with cars or trains or "my animals" or even Mr. Potato Head. I have trouble coming up with playful dialogue or kid-friendly story lines, and frankly, I get bored really quickly. How pathetic.

Now I know you might say, well sure, you're a grown-up, Tall Girl, and you've long since grown out of all that imaginative play characteristic of childhood. But I'm not sure that's truly the case. Truth is, I don't know that I was ever good at make-believe. (Which might also be why I haven't yet written a bestselling novel...but we can talk about that another time.)

I'm thinking back about playtime with my brother, who is only 20 months younger than me and was my built-in childhood playmate. I remember "playing guys" with Star Wars action figures and sometimes playing with Hot Wheels or my dollhouse together. Unless Brother was directing me with his usual "now you say this," I was no good. And I got so bored. I could play hide-and-seek or tag or Uno forever. But playing guys was just not my thing.

And apparently it still holds true now with Sweet Boy. I can play Candyland or Memory over and over, I love to color or make Play-Doh critters, and I can spend hours on any playground chasing and being chased, but ask me to "play animals" for five minutes and I start to sweat. I even prefer building giant Lego skyscrapers to talking like a toy elephant. It's the pretending that just throws me!

I wonder if this is a boy/girl thing, or if it's a left brain/right brain thing; my son reminds me a lot of my brother, so it's possible they have similar ways of thinking that might just be opposite mine. Or maybe it's a I've-always-been-an-uptight-Mommy-type thing, which is really quite possible because, well, I have always been an uptight Mommy type.
Or perhaps I just don't think too quickly (scratch improv comedy off my list of possible careers).

Whatever the root of my particular dysfunction might be, I'll continue to work on playing. It's worth it just for the proud little smile Sweet Boy gives me when I have a true make-believe moment.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A new day, a new world, it'll be ok

I haven’t written anything substantial in recent days because, well, I’ve been nervous and anxious and so uber-focused on the election that I was, frankly, boring. I bored myself, and I didn’t want to bore you with anymore political stuff. Because really, we’ve all had enough political stuff.

And then, of course, Tuesday happened. Around 10 p.m. Tuesday evening, I cried a great big sobbing-laughing emotion-releasing cry when I realized that Obama would be our next president. Tears of happiness, tears of hope, tears of disbelief, and tears of a tiny bit of sadness that my mom didn’t get to see this happen. I cried throughout Obama’s speech, and all day Wednesday, my eyes teared up and the goosebumps reappeared every time I thought of his words, of this moment in American history, of the magnitude of what lies ahead.

Obama’s anecdote about the 106-year-old woman reminded me of my grandparents. They are in their mid-80s, children of the Great Depression, parents of the 60s revolutionaries, grandparents of the gen-X and gen-Y kids who have finally stood up and said “enough is enough,” and great-grandparents of a child who will grow up without even flinching at the notion of a black president, or even a woman president. I’m awed when I imagine what their eyes have seen.

Throughout this election season, I have not really discussed the candidates or the campaign with my grandparents because I know they have conservative views, both politically and socially, and I didn’t really want to get into any kind of debate. I mean, come on, they’re old, they’re set in their ways, and arguing would just upset us both. But last night I called them, just to say hello.

My gram and I chatted for a few minutes about the usual stuff—the weather, the kiddo, baseball (I told you it’s in my genes!)—and then Grampa got on the phone. Before I tell you about my conversation with him, let me tell you a little about my grandfather: A retired Naval officer and school principal, he was an imposing figure who raised my mom and her three brothers with a heavy hand. My brother and I were extremely intimidated by him when we were kids, but by the time my sister came along, he had mellowed quite a bit. He was (and still is) intensely intelligent and a consummate teacher, always drilling us on math or correcting our grammar. To this day he reads the Sunday NY Times cover to cover. Grampa always needed to be “useful”—he would visit our home and mow the lawn because he just couldn’t sit still. He was never overtly affectionate with his children or grandchildren and he was extremely frugal, but he showed his love by building us things—amazing, super-sturdy furniture that will be passed down for generations. (In fact, the photo below was taken in the gazebo he built by the bay in the town where my grandparents have lived for 50-some years.)

Grampa aged very well until about 5 years ago, around his 80th birthday, when his mental acuity and physical strength really started diminishing. Now he and Gram are pretty much house-bound, unable to drive, and when we speak these days, he has a hard time remembering my name or the names of my husband or my siblings; when we see each other in person, he often confuses me for my mother. These are the symptoms of getting old, I tell myself, the payoff for living such a long, hearty, good life. But his eyes still sparkle their brilliant blue; think Paul Newman-blue eyes.

When we talked on the phone last night, though, my grandfather was sharper than he’s been in months. He was chatty and light and knew not only who I was but asked questions about my son and my husband and my home. I didn’t bring up the election—but he did. And this is what he said: “We waited up Tuesday night to see who won this election. A late night, eh? And I am pleased that this young man will be our president. I can’t believe it, a Negro man is president! What a different world. But I’m pleased. It’s scary times right now, isn’t it, love? But I think he will be a good president. You kids will be ok. I think it’ll all be ok.”

And when I hung up the phone I got teary-eyed one more time about the gravity of this week.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

More evidence that we watch too much TV

Today's the day, right? Did you vote? Did you stand in line? Did you get butterflies in your tummy when they called your name and said "Now voting!"? Did you call all your friends and family and remind them to vote? If you said yes to any of the above, I'm proud of you. And if you didn't there's still time. Please, go vote. I don't care who you pick -- just do it. We are so fortunate to live in a country where our choices matter. Don't take that for granted.

OK, off the soap box. Lighter tidbit:
My son is walking around the house (school is closed because it's a polling place) repeating this mantra: “I’m Barakabama and I approve this mechage.” And then I just turned on the boob tube (because I can’t stay away from the news today, even though I really should) and there was a McCain ad on, and Sweet Boy said “Look, mom, that’s John McCain.”

So either my child is really attentive and smart for a 3-year-old and already aware of his civic responsibility... or the television is on way too often in this house. I'm guessing the latter to be more true than the former.

However, when I asked him who he was voting for, he responded with a great big smile “Oh, you silly mommy, I like Barakabama. He makes people clap they hands.”

Good boy. You get to eat a Reeses Cup for breakfast.

Oh, by the way -- today is Big Daddy's birthday. He's celebrating by, um, sitting on the recliner with the TV on...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Cute photos to calm pre-election jitters

I'm too nervous about tomorrow's election to write much of anything useful or intelligent.

So, here I'll post some cute little photos of my Sweet Boy in his Halloween costume.

And then I'll stress-eat some more of his candy.

And I'll continue to imagine how the world might be for him if we can innaugurate you-know-who on January 20.

Have you ever seen so many Spideys or Power Rangers gathered in one place?

My boy loves to sing the Black Cat Skat song...

...but he really hates masks (just like his mama!)

Here he's practicing his very cutest
smile and "trick-or-treeeeeat!"

All aboard the Sweet Boy Express...choo-choo!